PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The pro-charter-reform group Portland United for Change announced on Sept. 7, that it’s raised approximately $400,000 in cash and pledges from donors in support of Measure 26-228 — a plan that would drastically shake up the way Portland’s city government operates if approved by voters this November.
The announcement was made the same day that Portland City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero officially referred the measure to the fall ballot.
The measure was drafted after the city’s latest round of charter review, which is conducted every 10 years by an independent body of 20 Portland residents known as the Charter Commission. After assembling in 2020, at least 15 members of the current commission agreed to put forward changes to the city’s charter. These proposed changes include switching to a ranked-choice voting system, the creation of four new geographic districts, each with its own set of representatives, and a dramatic change of responsibilities for Portland’s city commissioners.
These changes, Portland United for Change Campaign Manager Sol Mora said, will result in better city services and local representation.
“We’re reaching out to voters in all parts of the City to say: Change can’t wait, vote yes on 26-228,” Mora said.
Unlike Portland’s current voting system which allots voters one candidate selection per city seat, the proposed “ranked-choice” system would allow voters to “rank” their favorite candidates in order of preference. These votes would be tallied in rounds until an ultimate winner was declared. This system would also create one general election and would eliminate city primaries.
“As of November 2021, 43 jurisdictions in the U.S. used ranked-choice voting in their most recent elections, and more than 50 jurisdictions are projected to use it in their next election,” the city of Portland states on its webpage for the proposed ballot measure. “Communities that have switched to ranked-choice voting, including Benton County in Oregon, have had an increase in voter participation.”
The proposed charter reform would also split the city into four geographic districts with three elected officials representing each district. This would raise the current number of city council members from four to 12. Unlike the city’s current system, the geographic districts would require each councilor to live in the area of Portland they represent. The mayor and city auditor would still be elected citywide.
“Portland has more than three times as many people as it did in 1913, yet Portland City Council has not grown in size or representation in over 100 years,” the proposal reads. “Currently, all four city councilors are elected at-large across the entire city, which means a candidate for any seat can live anywhere within Portland.”
Lastly, the amended charter would relieve commissioners of all bureau-management duties by switching from a commission-style government altogether.
“Portland is the last remaining large city in the U.S. with a commission form of government,” the proposed plan states.
Instead, bureau management would be handled by city administrators. This move would, theoretically, allow commissioners to focus their efforts on developing local laws and policies, and serving the needs of the communities they represent. The mayor, meanwhile, would no longer be considered a member of the council and would oversee the city’s executive functions. This includes distributing bureau management roles to future city administrators.
“The unanimous consensus of the Commission is that City Council members should not directly manage bureaus, and that a form of government should be pursued that would ensure a separation of executive and legislative functions in city government,” the Charter Commission stated in February. “Removing the role of Commissioner-in-Charge of bureaus from City Commissioners and shifting bureau management elsewhere increases City Council and council staff capacity to focus on legislation, such as making laws, engaging constituents, and bringing community voices into decision-making.”
The City Budget Office estimates that these changes would cost between $900,000 and $8.7 million annually. The Portland Business Alliance, Portland’s regional Chamber of Commerce, sought to stop the proposed changes from reaching voters in November by filing suit against the Portland City Auditor and City Elections Officer. However, a judge dismissed the suit on a technicality in August, the Oregonian reported, allowing the measure to reach November’s ballot.
“We are disappointed that the judge failed to recognize that the charter commission’s proposal violates the constitutional single-subject protection for voters,” the Portland Business Alliance stated in August. “Portlanders now have less choice. Our members and board will now have to weigh the unfortunate options to either oppose the measure and keep our present dysfunctional system, or to support the measure in favor of a completely improvised one that will likely lead to a different system of dysfunction. We suspect we are not the only ones that feel this way.”
With Measure 26-228 on the ballot, Portland United for Change is holding a campaign kick-off event on Sept. 10 at an unnamed location. The campaign say it has already seen a “strong show of support” from donors entering election season. The campaign’s largest supporters, so far, include five nonprofits: Oregon Ranked Choice Voting, FairVote, Building Power for Communities of Color, the Northwest Health Foundation and North Star Action Center. Click here for the campaign’s list of supporters.